Years ago, when the Maoists hadn't yet started on their murder spree, the rebel group wasn't as unpopular as it is now. They made headlines with their punishment for polygamous men, forcing gamblers to do sit-ups and shaving the heads of those found exploiting villagers.
These Robin Hood deeds had impressed the media. And journalists gave priority to Maoist news because they thought this would force the political parties to get over their pettiness and devote themselves to nation building. But the Maoists got carried away with violence and stopped respecting the people they were supposed to liberate. The social reform actions turned into a bloodbath. And even the sympathetic media started becoming critical.
The people found out that punishing the polygamous was a trick to get to power. Shaving the heads of exploiters seemed to be a way of threatening all political opposition. And the sidelining of Baburam Bhattarai proves that the Maoist can't be trusted when they say that they will maintain press freedom when they come to power. If that is the fate of a senior politburo member, how can we trust them on their professed respect for diversity, tolerance of those with different viewpoints? How can we entrust the country in their hands?
Modern Nepali citizens don't trust speeches and rhetoric anymore, they look at actions. And it is in this competition for the hearts and minds that we see the RNA newly active. It used to be digging new roads and disaster relief but today's army can be seen helping farmers with their rifles slung behind them. Guns are not enough to defeat the Maoists. Those who believe in violence like the Maoists can't be defeated by guns alone, programs based on political ideologies are needed. It looks like the RNA rank and file are beginning to understand this.
In the past, the RNA has remained aloof from the people. When it did come in contact with ordinary people it was rude to them. RNA personnel used to victimise drivers who dared overtake them on the road. But lately, there has been a change in the army's approach. Speaking to the media last week, army spokesman Deepak Gurung revealed that the army has investigated 40 incidents of human rights violations and 44 have been jailed, 31 have been discharged from service and 12 demoted, etc. This will restore the citizens' confidence in the RNA. Maybe there is a need for the army to maintain secrecy in military matters, but on economic, social and character issues it must be as transparent as glass.